By John Greening
Two unexpected encounters recently elicited positive mental pictures and a grateful heart. The first encounter occurred while Daria and I were chatting with individuals at a reception. Dawn Jacobs (née Pickering) approached us with a woman by her side I did not recognize at first. To my surprise, the lady was Nancy Jacobs, widow of Dr. Jack Jacobs. What a wonderful treat to catch up on her life and family! We reflected together on her godly husband, who was also a fine educator and pastor.
The second encounter took place during a phone call I received from a pastoral colleague, Steve McElwain, conveying that his father-in-law and one of my former professors, Dr. Robert “Bob” Williams, had gone to be with the Lord. As we talked together, Steve shared a few recollections and told me of his plans for the memorial service.
These encounters brought to mind the profound influence that instructors in higher education have had on my life. I have warm personal memories of Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Williams, and could pay tribute to each man readily. However, I would like to speak of a larger body of people, Bible college and seminary professors, who left their mark on those of us who serve in ministry.
The men and women who compose the faculty and administration of Bible colleges and seminaries exemplify the highest standards of scholarship. Initially, the professors’ scholastic accomplishments left me with a “deer in the headlights” look. Gradually their accomplishments made me realize I must give diligence to the week-by-week labor of opening the Word of God for the people in my churches. Preaching and teaching the Word is serious business, demanding rigorous academic discipline.
As an excited freshman, I marveled at the libraries that lined the walls of faculty offices. I noted the framed diplomas behind my teachers’ desks. I saw the stately regalia of their academic robes and hoods. All of these accoutrements gave the appearance of elite intellectualism. But those items of academia weren’t just for show; they symbolized a heritage of academic pursuit that the faculty members continued to advance.
I entered classrooms, listened to lectures, and engaged in learning exercises designed to take the abstract of instruction into the reality of life and ministry. As I did so, I began to make sense of the educational routines and rituals. I realized these people were true professionals who earned the right to stand at the lectern and instruct. In disbelief, I wondered how it was possible to know that much and speak with such clarity. Subsequently, I understood that their academic prowess resulted from years of disciplined study. They had sacrificed, spending endless hours reading, writing, and memorizing to earn the credentials that enabled them to be hired for these sacred positions. The been there done that of nitty-gritty study and preparation entitled them to make similar demands of me and my fellow students.
My years under their tutelage shaped the navigational convictions that guided my ministry path. They gave me the content that fueled the personal creativity of my ministries. Without their teaching, I might be aimlessly pursuing something other than what God had hardwired me to do.
The unique setting of a Bible college and seminary permitted me to realize that these professors were not only capable theoreticians, they were also practitioners. Every week they left their classrooms to minister in local churches, serving as interim pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, instrumentalists, or vocalists. Their connection with the real world of local church ministry enhanced the value of their teaching on campus. With their actions, they modeled that the goal of ministry is not a cognitive stockpile of knowledge, but the communication of the life-changing gospel that transforms sinners into Christlike saints.
Through the years I have listened to many graduates reflect on bygone days of schooling. Invariably they comment on the personal side of their profs. In a Bible college or seminary atmosphere, often the faculty can be seen as real people. Some professors are quirky; others are capable of laugh-out-loud humor. They have outside interests in sports, traveling, art, and music. By and large, they have deep love for their families. They face the joys and heartaches of life just like the rest of us. They are grossly underpaid for their value and competencies, yet they labor on. The same professors who appear austere and demanding in class open their office doors to meet, weep, and pray with students.
In my mind’s eye I can see Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Williams. To the memory of these men I say thank you for your investment in my life. Without you, I would not be where I am, have the values I internalize, or have the outlook for ministry I embrace.
What I say of them I also say to the ranks of men and women of the past and present who serve as faculty members and administrators of Bible colleges and seminaries. Stay encouraged in your work. Many of us are products of the plying of your professional trade. To borrow the words spoken in tribute to the men and women of Hebrews 11, I say of you, the world is not worthy.
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.